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Nairobi heavily policed on third day of protests

Country Map - Kenya (Nairobi)

Heavily armed police were on Thursday patrolling the streets of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, as demonstrations called by political parties and NGOs against constitutional reforms entered their third day.

One person was killed on Wednesday as police clashed with protesters, officials said, describing the dead man as a "looter".

"We had to disperse the demonstration because it was illegal - the organisers did not notify the authorities of their plans," Jaspher Ombati, police spokesman, said.

"One looter was killed, but we are yet to establish whether he was shot by our forces or beaten to death by a mob that descended on him when they found him stealing," he added.

The police spokesman said many people had taken advantage of the chaos to loot and cause havoc in the city’s central business district.

However, Kepta Ombati, a member of the National Convention Executive Council, a pro-reform coalition of political parties and NGOs that helped to organise the mass action, said his organisation was "scandalised" by Wednesday’s events.

He added that the organisers had given the police one week’s prior notice of the demonstrations.

"The government very clearly attacked the people’s right to peaceful assembly," he said. "We hold them fully responsible for the life that was lost during the violence."

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua disagreed: "The government cannot condone any form of violence, so when protestors pick up stones and throw them at the police, when they begin breaking windows and looting, it is the duty of the police to restore law and order and stop the mayhem," he told IRIN.

Kepta Ombati said the chaos had resulted from the police’s heavy-handedness in dealing with peaceful protestors, and noted that Tuesday’s demonstration, when the police had "restrained themselves", had been relatively calm.

He said the demonstrations would continue for a third day on Thursday.

The demonstrations were in protest of what Kepta Ombati called "the government’s hijacking of the process of constitution reform". He said parliament, which is debating the constitution in parliament this week, had usurped the people’s right to determine their future.

"Parliament has no constitutional right to write a new constitution. Only representatives of the population selected for that specific purpose, and the people - through a referendum - have the right to form a new constitution," he added.

Mutua, however, said Members of Parliament were the people’s legitimate representatives, and had every right to debate the constitution.

"Not all Kenyans can participate in reviewing every clause in the constitution, and it is therefore in the hands of the people’s representatives - the MPs - to change and create new laws for the country," he added.

Once parliament has passed its draft, controversial clauses that remain will be put to the population in a referendum set for October.

Contentious issues include the addition to the executive of a powerful prime minister, the separation of powers, and the bill of rights.

Mutua further accused those behind the demonstrations of having selfish interests at heart. He said many members of civil society earned a living stirring up controversy, and feared they would become obsolete if they stopped campaigning.

Kepta Ombati said: "Government must have the people’s interests at heart. At the moment, they have their own interests in mind, and are willing to kill and maim to achieve them."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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